Who wrote this book and when?
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) in 1889.
Has there been a film version?
Several. Rogers and Hart adapted it into a musical for the stage called “A Connecticut Yankee.” There have been a plethora of cartoons developed from the central story, including Ducktales. My favorite move version is the 1949 film starring Bing Crosby, Rhonda Fleming, and William Bendix. Keshia Knight Pullman (Rudy from “The Cosby Show”) starred in a 1989 film version. There are two other popular versions starring children visiting the court of King Arthur: one made by Disney in 1995, and a television version made the same year.
Who are the main characters?
Hank Morgan/Sir Boss – a mechanic from the late 1800’s who is bashed on the head and wakes up in the 6th century as a part of King Arthur’s court
King Arthur – I’d say this one is pretty much self-explanatory
Merlin – a rival magician of Hank’s
Clarence – a young page who becomes Hank’s right hand man
Alisande “Sandy” La Carteloise – a young woman who assists Hank in his first quest
What’s it about?
Hank Morgan is a mechanic in the late 1800’s. One afternoon, he gets into an argument with a coworker and is smashed on the head with a wrench. He wakes up to find himself in 6th century England and very soon after taken captive by a knight. Through a series of lucky breaks and sneaky uses of his advanced knowledge of technology, Hank sets himself up in the court of King Arthur Pendragon as “Sir Boss;” the most revered of all the court magicians. Hank is determined to remodel England into the first modern civilization, and therefore do away with knight errantry and backwards thinking for good.
Why is this book a classic?
It’s one of the greatest satirical works of all time which poses the question of whether a successful civilization is really defined by its advanced technology or its innocence to the horrors some technology brings. It was originally intended to poke fun at the literary themes of Twain’s time, the romancing novels which glorified chivalry and the ideas of the middle ages; but it becomes much more sobering a satire when you consider soon after it was published, the world was launched into the Industrial Revolution and saw the death of many of the more innocent ways of life in the next fifty to a hundred years…
Why should I read this book?
To discover another side of Mark Twain if all you’ve ever read is “Huck Finn” and “Tom Sawyer.” Also, if you’re learning about the school of satirical writing, study this work and Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels.”
Has it won any awards?
Too early in literary history to have won awards.
“Many a time I had seen a couple of boys, strangers, meet by chance, and say simultaneously, ‘I can lick you,’ and go at it on the spot; but I had always imagined until now, that that sort of thing belonged to children only; and here were these big boobies sticking to it and taking pride in it clear up into full age and beyond.” -p36
“Merlin has wrought a spell! Merlin, forsooth! That cheap old humbug, that maundering old ass? Bosh, pure bosh, the silliest bosh in the world! Why, it does seem to me that of all the childish, idiotic, chuckle-headed, chicken-livered, superstitious that ev-oh, damn Merlin!” -p53
You can read this book for free in its entirety on Project Gutenburg’s website. I would suggest checking it out from your local library with the fully illustrated version.
This is also the first book to be recognized as a “steampunk” tale and possibly the first popular work involving time travel. A steampunk tale is one which the environment is one of the past which takes advantage of modern technology, ideas, or science.
Like many satires I have read, this book started out as hilariously funny to me. I was just as enamoured with the idea of a “modern” (the term now relative) man entering the 6th century and using his knowledge to become one of its most famous and revered citizens. But also the case with many satirical works I read, after a certain point – I got bored. Hank’s adventures became predictable and almost disgusting and embarrassing to me. His pride, while I think not to be considered horribly overwhelming until the end of the book, was frustrating me from the point he began setting up covert factories and the “miraculous healing” of the well of the Valley of Holiness. The book was predictable in that you knew Hank was going to return from the past a changed man from the beginning chapters, and you also knew Hank would triumph with nearly whatever he undertook because of his superior grasp of technology. Indeed, I wonder if someone from now would have made quite such an impact with our current reliance on the internet and television.
However, it was Mark Twain, so it was a very funny story; especially when you have seen the Bing Crosby musical version. I appreciated Sandy’s character more than any other in the book, even when she went on her long winded speeches from “le morte d’arthur.”